The Western North Carolina Association of the United Church of Christ has approved its first openly lesbian minister. Members also reaffirmed a 1983 resolution that reads, "Avowed practicing homosexuals shall not be ordained to the Christian ministry in this association." The apparently contradictory decisions at the association's annual meeting have led some to think the members didn't understand what they were doing. "This was a parliamentary nightmare all day long," said the Reverend Dr. Bob Thompson of Hickory's Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ. "She got approved in the middle of confusion."
The 1983 resolution remained standing after secret written ballots were cast by the 140 delegates. Tuesday's annual association meeting included 62 churches in the Western North Carolina Conference. Cindy Maddox is the first openly lesbian minister to be ordained in the conference. "The United Church of Christ is one of the most liberal and affirming denominations in the country, and yet, as far as I know, this is the only association that has such a resolution," said Maddox, who has spoken often about
her sexual orientation. Maddox, of Asheville's First Congregational Church, was one of a group of
candidates confirmed for ordination by a 20-vote margin. But the vote came with one last-ditch effort to single out Maddox for nonconfirmation. When the church and ministry committee presented its list of candidates to be ordained, a last-minute motion was made to vote on each candidate separately. The United Church of Christ leaves ordination decisions to its regional associations.
After nearly two years of study and conversation on the issue of gay clergy, it's still not clear whether the sensitive subject was laid to rest with Tuesday's vote. "This is not about hatred or exclusion or homophobia," Thompson said. "There are a number, maybe hundreds, of issues in the Bible that are unclear or ambiguous. But God's gift of sex, marriage, and celibacy--that's a pervasive and cohesive witness of Scripture. There is no ambiguity about that in the Bible."